Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Gamboa's Ibis

The news spread like fire on summer dry grassland in Coclé (OK, I know it only makes sense to the Panamanians, sorry about that)... a country first-record was twitchable in the town of Gamboa, in central Panama, mere 30 minutes from Panama City.  A group of visiting birders photographed a Plegadis ibis right at the one-lane bridge over the Chagres river but it was not until they review the pictures back at the lodge they were staying that realized that it was a White-faced Ibis, a species ever recorded in Panama.
White-faced Ibis spot, with the Gamboa bridge in the background
The next day, many local and foreign birders re-found the bird in the same spot early in the morning.  It stayed most of the day feeding in the muddy banks of the river.  Certainly is the most photographed and documented first-record for Panama!  My duties prevented me to be part of the crowd admiring that day, so I coordinated with Itzel (who also failed to attend the event) to go get it early the next day.  We where at the bridge at first light, and I even managed to see the White-faced Ibis from the car while crossing it.
Great Kiskadee (and yes, THE ibis is in the background)
The bird was feeding right where we were told, but the light was awful for photos... it took a while before it got close enough for decent shots at least.  As I mentioned before, the occurrence has been extensively documented, and some impressive photographs of this particular bird are available, so I consider my photos just mere record shots.  No matter that, it still shows the red iris and bronzy-green sheen to the back.
White-faced Ibis
It is always a treat finding or relocating a rarity.  It was not a lifer for me, this species breeds in temperate zones of both North and South America, where I saw one a couple of years ago (in central Argentina).  The North American population is partially migratory, reaching northern Central America with an old record from Costa Rica, so this sighting is a big deal for us.  Officially, the Panama list of birds includes 1002 species, a HUGE number for such a tiny country... and I'm pretty sure it will continue to grow!
White-faced Ibis

Sunday, February 7, 2016

And talking about colorful migrants...

Just a short note.  After incidentally finding my friend Osvaldo while birding in Metro Park yesterday morning, he agreed to show me the city park where his son first found a wintering American Redstart some weeks ago.  It was almost noon, and the place seemed quiet... just a city park in the middle of a nice residential area in Panama City.  At first, just the most common species were evident: Blue-gray Tanagers, Yellow Warblers and Yellow-crowned Euphonias.
(Northern) Yellow Warbler
I followed Osvaldo to the spot where he relocated the redstart, finding some seedeaters, grassquits and two Summer Tanagers in the way.  Of course, the colorful migrant I'm talking about was not the Summer Tanager... but it was a nice bonus.
male Summer Tanager
After some pishing, a curious male American Redstart showed up.  The contrasting orange patches were quite conspicuous of course.
male American Redstart
This is not a rare species in Panama, but having one wintering right in the middle of the city is worth the effort.  Thanks Osvaldo for the tip!
male American Redstart

Cute and colorful migrant!

At this point, most of you are aware of the vagrant Painted Bunting that showed up in Brooklyn, NY and all the media frenzy it has generated... but you know that the same is happening down here in central Panama?  The report of several Painted Buntings, including a stunning male, at the Summit Ponds passed unnoticed for some days... after all, it is not the first time the species is reported for the place and usually are seen only once.  But then, the colorful male was reported repeatedly from the same spot several days in a row... and some awesome pictures by my friend Rafael Lau simply attracted attention to the rare migrant (see this eBird checklist and you'll see what I'm talking about).
"Just for tourists"
So, I went to the Summit Ponds in order to find the little bird.  The "Just for tourists" sign didn't intimidate me and I jumped the fence to reach the exact place where it has been hanging around (just joking... the sign is at the entrance of the Summit Ponds trail, but it refers to a portable bathroom that is long gone and the place is open to the general public).  The Summit Ponds are a favorite birding hotspot, so I started to find some nice species... including the local Jet Antbird, a specialty for this place.
This is how you usually see Jet Antbirds
My friends Osvaldo (Code Name: Green Kingfisher), Rafael Luck (CN: Crested Caracara) and Itzel (CN: Green Heron) where already waiting for the bird (just in case you're wondering, my code name is Cinnamon Woodpecker).  It was close to 3:00 pm and I decided to walk a little more into the trail, since the bird had been religiously seen around 4:00 pm.  I found several common residents and it was quite entertaining... a male Purple-crowned Fairy and three different species of euphonias were the highlights... but it soon was time to check for the bunting.
Purple-crowned Fairy
A little bit before 4:00 pm, I noticed a little bird flying low behind my pals.  A quick glimpse with my binoculars confirmed my suspicion: the expected male Painted Bunting!  I hurried to call my friends who were able to watch the shy bird... it was a life bird for all of them.
Painted Bunting 
Painted Bunting
My pictures are just for record purposes, of course... the bird was a little far for my lenses and didn't allow us to approach (it was very shy as I mentioned before), so we decided to left him alone.  What a magnificent little bird... so deliberately colored!  We didn't see the females reported before, but I'm sure there were at least two adult males because the next day I was able to see them just seconds apart.
Painted Bunting
It was not a lifer for me... but trust me that this is a species don't you want to miss in Panama if you got the chance!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Birds and... sea bass!

Last weekend I visited the famed Pipeline Road (central Panama) with my friend Osvaldo and the visiting birders from British Columbia: Gary, Mary, Paul and Lucille... I guess the warm weather and the promise of tropical lifers are a good excuse to escape the winter!  Our walk started at the first bridge, the Juan Grande creek.  We were not after specific rarities... just enjoying the exuberant forest and its inhabitants.
Male Black-throated Trogon (file photo)
Of course, Pipeline Road did not disappoint us... toucans, aracaris, caciques, puffbirds, fruitcrows, four different trogon species (of 5 possible), including a Black-throated Trogon calling just above our heads, and lots of antbirds kept us  entertained... a single mixed flock had three antwrens species, plus antshrikes, flycatchers and so on...  We also were quite lucky with some hard-to-see species; however, one species in particular stole the show.  One guide friend of us (Pipeline was crowded, for Panamanian standards) told us that a Streak-chested Antpitta was displaying in the "open" some meters ahead.  The clear and characteristic song was louder and louder... and eventually, the cute ball of feathers materialized in front of us.
Streak-chested Antpitta
What a show! No matter how many times I see it, it is always amazing.  My photos doesn't do it justice... you need to see it yourself!  After all the excitement, we decided to left the place (reluctantly); however, Osvaldo had a surprise for us.  He had booked lunch at the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center... and what a lunch!
What a great way to end a day at Pipeline Road.  I have to say that it was weird to enjoy a fresh fried sea bass while hearing Black-striped Woodcreepers and Black-breasted Puffbirds... but I can get used.
Lunch in the rainforest!